It takes a village (and the state) to make vault safe for paint job
CORNWALL — It’s been about 40 years since the Town Hall vault walls have been painted. Behind the shelves there are patches of bare cement block. What was painted is now peeling badly. The cement floor could use work, too.Town Clerk Vera Dinneen’s original plan was to do the work herself, maybe with a little volunteer help, over a weekend. She envisioned a much brighter atmosphere, with light from the old fluorescents reflecting off glossy white paint.She also knew there were regulations to consult. But she was more than a little taken aback when she was told the entire vault needed to be emptied before any painting could begin. Records were to be moved to a code-compliant vault to which the public would still have access. Even the chemicals the paint might outgas are a threat to old documents; ventilation was a concern.What had started as a plan for a simple paint job was shaping up to be an expensive logistical nightmare.Dinneen has since worked with the Connecticut State Library, which has jurisdiction over public records storage (with the exception of vital records — birth, marriage, divorce, death — which are under the purview of the Department of Public Health).It is state library Field Archivist Kathy Makover who is ultimately responsible for inspecting and approving vaults where records are stored. Public Records Administrator LeAnn Power works with Makover and told The Lakeville Journal projects such as this are not uncommon and often take unique approaches. At a recent project in Waterbury, records were stored temporarily in vaults in two former banks buildings, for example.“In Cornwall, because the paint is peeling and there are unsealed sections, we can give them the option of painting without moving records,” Power said, “provided they use the correct materials and procedure.”Dinneen said this week she had received a long list of requirements from Makover and had two bids from professional painters. The Board of Selectmen voted Feb. 7 to hire Fox Painting of West Cornwall to do the work. The quote was $1,250.The list includes using low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) water-based paint, primer and sealer. Heavy-duty tarps need to be taped to cabinets and shelves to seal out dust and fumes.Walls and floors need to be cleaned of dust with a HEPA filter vacuum before painting.Work needs to be done when temperature and humidity are low, and always while the town clerk is present. Fans need to be used for ventilation for at least several days after the project is completed. Timing also has to allow for the vault to not be closed for longer than overnight for the first few days.Once a bid and plan are in place, it needs to be submitted to the field archivist for approval.Power said vital records may have still have to be relocated. That is up to the Department of Health and the Public Records administrator.State statute dictates a lengthy list of requirements for vaults, much of it about fire-resistance. The law was enacted in 1969, presumably in response to the loss of public records to fires.